Posted on: June 17, 2010 7:32 pm
LOS ANGELES – Among the subplots swirling around Game 7 of the NBA Finals is what happens next for both teams. Regardless of the outcome, big changes could be on the way for the Lakers and Celtics.
Boston’s Big Three aren’t getting any younger, and Doc Rivers hasn’t tipped his hand about whether he’ll step away from coaching next season to spend more time with his family. The Lakers’ roster is far less fragile than it was when they lost to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals, but the key figure who holds everything together, Phil Jackson, has the power to blow it all apart.
“There’s a lot of questions in terms of what Phil’s going to do,” said Derek Fisher, the Lakers’ only core player who isn’t under contract for next season. “He’s probably the biggest thing that turns the trifle in terms of how the future looks, as far as whether he’s back or not.”
When the Lakers have experienced playoff failures in the past – the poor showing in the ’04 Finals, the back-to-back first-round losses to Phoenix – the threat of major changes has never been far behind. The ’04 team was a different story, given the way it was patched together with future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone. After the 2007 loss to the Suns, Kobe Bryant went on the infamous offseason rampage when he issued, then rescinded a trade demand.
“You talk about franchises where there’s tradition to win championships, that’s what you expect,” Lamar Odom said. “This is the type of pressure that we live for. This is what makes us. This is what makes being a sportsman, playing for an organization that’s established like this: the Cowboys, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, the L..A. Lakers. That’s just the way it is.”
The key figure who could prevent all hell from breaking lose in Laker Land, Jackson, hasn’t tipped his hand – not even to his players and coaches.
“Although it appears that I’m a lot closer to it, I’m actually in the same seat that you are,” said assistant coach Brian Shaw, one of those who would be in line to replace Jackson if he retired. “He hasn’t let us know or given us an indication one way or the other. So we have to just sit and play it by ear just like everybody else.”
Said Fisher: “I have no clue to be honest. I don’t think he does either. He tries to teach us in terms of just embracing the now and the moment and being here in the present and not really worrying about what’s coming down the line. I think it’s the same way for him. I think he’ll gage where he is emotionally and physically. Obviously, the result [of Game 7] could play a part in it.”
Same goes for the Celtics, who face the prospect of losing Rivers and seeing that trigger major roster changes. Ray Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, Paul Pierce can opt out of his contract and become one, and Kevin Garnett – though under contract for two more years – clearly is in decline.
"It’s one of the toughest things, which Boston will face here probably pretty shortly,” said Shaw, a former Celtic and Laker. “KG is getting up there, plus Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rasheed [Wallace]. I know the Boston team that I played on in the late 80s, they had [Kevin] McHale, [Robert] Parrish, DJ [Dennis Johnson], [Larry] Bird – these guys all kind of got older at the same time. Do you show loyalty and keep everybody until the wheels fall off and then have to start over? Look how long it took Boston to get back to where they are now. Or do you say, ‘Some guys are getting kind of towards the end,’ and try to infuse some youth?’”
Critical decisions that both teams will be facing, days or even hours after one of them is crowned champion.
Posted on: June 10, 2010 3:55 pm
BOSTON -- Lost in the officiating angst and Ray Allen's feast-or-famine shooting is a matchup that will be critical to the outcome of Game 4 of the NBA Finals Thursday night: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest.
As Mike Freeman has noted , Pierce has been notably absent from the Finals festivities thus far, averaging only 16.3 points while shooting 36 percent from the field. That's simply not good enough for the Celtics to win this series. Allen's 3-point shooting comes and goes, but Pierce needs to produce for Boston to take the momentum back from the Lakers.
Pierce has downplayed the notion that Artest's defense has anything to do with his lack of productivity in the first three games, but that's wishful thinking on his part. Sometimes Artest is a viable option on offense, and sometimes he shoots 1-for-10 or dribbles around aimlessly before launching an ill-advised shot. But one thing the guy does is play defense. Been doing it for years. This is why the Lakers signed him.
Well, not exactly. The Lakers signed him presuming they'd be facing LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Finals, but the Celtics dispensed with Bron & Co. and proceeded to unleash a torrent of organizational change on the banks of Lake Erie. When you draw up a defensive game plan for the Celtics, the first guy you zero in on is Pierce. Phil Jackson and his staff haven't been required to do much in that regard other than put their arm around Artest, point to No. 34 in green and white, and say, "Get him."
Artest has, with brute force and quick hands and savvy that comes not from video study but gut instincts. Artest has said on several occasions during the playoffs that he doesn't study the opponent he's guarding, whether it's Kevin Durant, LeBron, or Pierce. On Friday, he explained why.
"I've seen every move in New York City, so I don’t have to study my opponent anymore," Artest said. "Every move that somebody has in the NBA, I’ve seen it already. I’ve seen it in New York already."
Artest was asked if he could still dominate a game defensively -- as if holding the Celtics' No. 1 scoring option to 36 percent shooting was somehow not dominant.
"I have before," Artest said. "I've dominated a game defensively and scored four points. You really don’t see it. It’s like that death blow, the Chinese blow? Where you hit and you don’t really feel it yet until it’s in you, and like five seconds later you kind of die? You've see that on TV?"
Sure, Ron. Anyway, Artest's approach to guarding Pierce hasn't been steeped in any nuance. Just straightforward grappling and a few playground tricks.
"I guess you just play the same way that you’ve been playing for all these years, but just stick to it," Artest said. "That’s why sometimes I have bad games because I'm playing the same way I've been playing for years. I try to get better, but one thing I have been doing for years is playing defense. I know how to change a game defensively, know little things I can do to disrupt everybody on the floor. Offensively sometimes, certain days, I may have 30 [points]. I've worked on that part of my game. Some days I might go 1 for 10. But defensively I can probably make somebody else shoot bad. So the days I don’t play well offensively, I've got to make sure I stay executing and maybe only take two shots or four shots, get some deflections, get some stops, pull out some old New York City tricks defensively and see what happens. See if it works."
It's worked so far on Pierce. If it keeps working, the Celtics are in trouble.
Posted on: April 18, 2010 10:26 pm
As I mentioned Saturday night, I'm a little surprised Kevin Garnett got suspended for his elbow to Quentin Richardson's head in Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics Series. Surprised, but not outraged.
Of all the factors I mentioned in trying to predict whether the league would suspend Garnett, the one that probably made the difference was the fact that Garnett's elbow was not thrown during the regular course of play. In other words, KG didn't inadvertently clip Q-Rich with an elbow while going for a rebound or contesting a shot. The league takes a more severe stance on extracurricular violence, and Garnett's outburst as he stood over injured teammate Paul Pierce certainly fell into that category.
In any event, the Celtics have no grounds to whine about this one. Garnett's bark has been bigger than his bite for more than a year, and this time he took a bite out of the Celtics' chances of winning this series. The fact that Garnett will miss Game 2 in Boston puts the Celtics in serious jeopardy of squandering home-court advantage. There's no one to blame but Garnett for that.
As much as I laughed upon learning that Richardson had called Garnett and Pierce "actresses" for their histrionics on the play in question, this is no laughing matter for the Celtics. They won Game 1 with stifling defense, keeping Dwyane Wade from beating them off the dribble for long stretches in the second half. I guess we'll find out how big a part of that Garnett was. My first reaction is that Wade will be more aggressive getting to the rim with the knowledge that Garnett won't be there waiting there for him.
But let's not forget this: The Celtics beat the Bulls in an epic first-round series without Garnett last year, and pushed Orlando to seven games without him, too. This is a team that knows how to overcome setbacks like this. They didn't win their 17th title two years ago for no good reason.
It's sort of funny that the player Boston will be relying on to step in for hothead Garnett is another renowned hothead, Rasheed Wallace. The recruiting visit that Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, and the Big Three made to persuade Sheed to sign with them last summer never looked so important.
Posted on: April 18, 2010 12:18 am
The story of Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics first-round series should have been the way Boston stifled Dwyane Wade in the second half and found the defensive dominance that led them to the 2008 title. The Celtics were back Saturday night -- until Kevin Garnett's elbow got in the way, twice, with 39 seconds left.
Now, the question is a legitimate one: Will KG be suspended for Game 2?
Another question is, should he be?
Taking all the usual factors into consideration, I think the answers are no, and no. But after beating the Heat 85-76 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, these are questions the Celtics shouldn't have to be contemplating.
You've seen the replays by now, and if nothing else, it should be clear that this was just an example of Garnett's typical bluster and machismo going too far. Hindered by a leg injury and all that mileage, Garnett has become a caricature of himself -- a woofing, cussing, emotional tinder box that on Saturday night kindled a fire that couldn't have been more unnecessary.
Anyone who knows Quentin Richardson -- and Garnett should know him by now, Q-Rich has been in the NBA for nine years -- would know that he approached the sideline in front of the Miami bench strictly out of concern for fallen Celtic Paul Pierce. As Pierce lay writhing in pain after sustaining a stinger on his right shoulder, Richardson immediately walked over to check on him.
"I just thought Q was standing over him talking some nonsense," Garnett said afterward.
KG, taking issue with somebody talking nonsense? Please.
Garnett immediately shoved Richardson out of the way, a course of action with which Richardson, to no one's surprise, took issue. Talking and jostling ensued, and things escalated into a full-scale shoving match immediately after Garnett connected with a vicious elbow to Richardson's face.
Garnett was assessed two technical fouls -- one for the initial shove and the talking, and a second for the elbow -- and was ejected. The issue now is whether the league office will/should take further action against the Celtics' big mouthed big man.
A few factors to consider: No one other than Pierce was injured in the fracas. The benches didn't clear, although it was difficult to determine what was going on with the Miami bench since Pierce had fallen into it. No punches were thrown, as far as I could see on the various replays.
It would be perfectly reasonable for league disciplinary czar Stu Jackson to conclude that the only harm in this situation was punished by the game officials, who dealt with Garnett appropriately after viewing the replays. But there are a couple of things I'd be concerned about if I were Doc Rivers or Danny Ainge: The league often considers whether contact is "unnecessary" or "excessive," and whether there is a windup before contact was made. Garnett's second elbow could reasonably fit all three criteria.
It also satisfied another definition of conduct that often is punished further by the league office: It escalated a tense situation into something else -- a full-fledged shoving match that easily could have resulted in punches being thrown.
The fact that it didn't result in punches being thrown is good for the Celtics. But the fact that it could have, I think, means that the next 18 hours or so will be accompanied by the appropriate amount of nervousness in New England.
All things considered, I don't think Garnett will be or should be suspended for Game 2. But if he is, I wouldn't object. And Garnett would only have himself to blame.
Posted on: February 2, 2010 9:57 pm
The Celtics got positive news about one of their aging stars Tuesday night when tests revealed that Paul Pierce has a strained left foot -- not a broken one -- and is day-to-day.
Amid fears that the most productive member of the struggling Big Three might have a broken bone in the foot after colliding with the Wizards' Caron Butler when diving for a loose ball Monday night, the tests revealed a mid-foot strain. The Celtics didn't call it a sprain, although that's typically how this type of injury is classified.
In any event, it was far from the worst-case scenario for Boston, which has lost six of nine -- including three straight to Orlando, Atlanta, and the Lakers.
Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:22 pm
What did we learn from the Magic-Celtics game Thursday night -- a late-January game with little significance in the standings?
We learned that we want some more Magic-Celtics drama in the playoffs. Here's hoping we get some.
There was Jameer Nelson taking out his All-Star snub on Rajon Rondo early in the game, followed by Rondo proving why he's a first-time All-Star with a steal and key basket late in the fourth. There were J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce exchanging 3-pointers, followed by Rashard Lewis bursting past a limping Kevin Garnett for the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds left.
This game had it all, the way an Orlando-Boston playoff series would have it all once again. You had the Magic coming back from a 16-point deficit, then defending the final inbounds play so Rondo couldn't get the ball to Allen or Paul Pierce, but instead got it to Rasheed Wallace, whose buzzer-beating 3-point attempt for the win was off.
You had Garnett, clearly not himself, dragging his bum leg around to the tune of six points on 2-for-8 shooting in 33 minutes, and Vince Carter continuing to struggle in his role with 2-for-13 shooting and six points.
My instinct at this early point in the journey? The Magic can and will survive Carter's inconsistency because they're so deep and versatile. Stan Van Gundy has more lineups than Craig Sager has suits. The Celtics are a different story. They're a team built on defense first, and Garnett isn't close to being right. The Magic can get by with Carter having an off shooting night, and they can get by if they jack a few too many threes. They can get by with Jason Williams running the point and with Dwight Howard missing free throws.
The Celtics can't get by without a healthy, impactful Garnett. There would be nothing better than Garnett getting back to some semblance of himself, because the Celtics and Magic in a seven-game playoff series in May would be just about as good as it gets.
They meet again a week from Sunday in Boston, their final head-to-head matchup of the regular season. These two teams can't play each other enough, as far as I'm concerned.
Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:53 am
Edited on: January 28, 2010 7:45 pm
First of all, as Charles Barkley would say, I love the seven first-time selections. All-Star weekend is badly in need of some juice, and I think there's a good chance that some of these first-timers -- Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo -- will provide some of the weekend's most memorable moments.
I know this is a knee-jerk sports world and we're supposed to fight about everything, but I don't have enormous problems with the coaches' selections. In the East, they picked Rose and Al Horford over my picks -- David Lee and Josh Smith. I disagree on Horford; Smith is the Hawks' most important player after Joe Johnson, and Horford doesn't play enough minutes to be an All-Star. Lee deserves to be there, too. Being based in New York, I have more than my share of chances to watch him bust his behind on a talent-less team. Rose? I don't have any problem with him being an All-Star. He'll be great to watch in an All-Star Game. Guys like Rose understand the moment and know how to rise to it.
In the West, I only differed with the coaches on one selection: They chose Zach Randolph; I chose Chauncey Billups. If I met with every coach who chose Randolph and we debated outside some NBA locker room, I don't think anybody would win. Z-Bo is having a great year on a surprisingly competitive team. Billups remains the glue that keeps the Nuggets together. I'll take the No. 2 pick in that draft and be happy.
In making my picks, I used the same criteria the coaches are instructed to use: select seven reserves, ranked 1-7 for weighting purposes, according to the following positional breakdown: center, two forwards, two guards, and two wild cards.
Here were my picks -- with the coaches' alternative in parentheses, where applicable:
1. Chris Bosh, F, Toronto: The "other" 2010 free agent went into the season determined to put up huge numbers, which he is. Bosh's steady play also is a big reason for the Raptors' recent resurgence.
2. Rajon Rondo, G, Boston: Nothing against Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen, but Rondo may have surpassed both of them as the most important Celtic after Paul Pierce.
3. Josh Smith, F, Atlanta (Coaches picked Derrick Rose): Defense, shot-blocking, scoring -- J-Smoove does it all, except take too many 3-pointers. He's eliminated that annoying aspect of his game and deserves to be rewarded.
4. Gerald Wallace, F (wild card), Charlotte: This is a tough call between Wallace and Danny Granger. I'll give the nod to Wallace because of defense and team success.
5. David Lee, C, Knicks (Coaches picked Al Horford): It's time to stop attributing Lee's machine-like double-double production to Mike D'Antoni's system and recognize that there's nothing wrong with being one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league.
6. Joe Johnson, G, Atlanta: Johnson should send a thank-you gift to Jamal Crawford, whose ability to absorb some of the end-of-quarter/end-of-game scoring load has kept Johnson fresh.
7. Paul Pierce, F (wild card), Boston: Rondo makes the Celtics' engine go, but Pierce is still the closer -- one of the best in the league at both ends of the floor.
1. Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas: Still playing at an MVP level and never gets the recognition he deserves.
2. Chris Paul, G, New Orleans: In terms of statistics and overall talent, the best point guard in the league.
3. Brandon Roy, G, Portland: With all of Portland's injuries -- including Roy's own balky hamstring of late -- this budding superstar deserves credit for keeping the Blazers afloat.
4. Chauncey Billups, G (wild card), Denver (Coaches picked Zach Randolph): We take Mr. Big Shot for granted because he's so consistent, but remember: He's consistently great. Monta Ellis deserves serious consideration here or for one of the wild-card spots, but there are simply too many great guards in the West for him to break through.
5. Pau Gasol, C, Lakers: Despite missing a big chunk of the season, Gasol has played enough to warrant an All-Star nod. When he's on the floor, he's among the most gifted and impactful big men in the league. Gasol or Randolph? I'll take Gasol.
6. Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City: We knew he could score, but now KD is emerging as a much improved defender and leader.
7. Deron Williams, G (wild card), Utah: This is why there's no room for Randolph on my squad, despite his solid 20-point, 11-rebound averages on a much improved Memphis team. D-Will is too good -- and the Jazz's recent resurgence too notable to overlook -- for one of the top point guards in the NBA to continue to get overlooked.
Posted on: December 23, 2009 4:57 pm
Kevin Garnett missed Tuesday night's game against Indiana with a thigh bruise. Pretty innocuous stuff. But on Wednesday came news that Paul Pierce underwent an arthroscopic irrigation on his right knee to clean an infection.
That doesn't sound good at all.
Pierce will miss the Celtics' four-game road trip, which begins with Friday's nationally televised Christmas Day game against Orlando. Though no structural damage was found in Pierce's knee, the Celtics say he could be sidelined up to two weeks.
The Celtics (22-5) have the best record in the East and second-best in the league after the Lakers (23-4). Friday's game could've been a chance to avenge a home loss to the Magic back in November. Instead, they find themselves limping toward 2010 with their fingers crossed.
Both KG and Pierce presumably will be fine. But it's worth remembering at this point that age and brittle bones are not the Celtics' friends. Among the elite teams, nobody relies more on aging veterans than the Celtics.
Pierce is 32 and has logged more than 31,000 minutes in the NBA. Garnett will turn 34 during the playoffs, and his odometer reads 40,000 and counting. Ray Allen is 34 and has launched more than 15,000 shots -- and that's not counting the tens of thousands in practice. Rasheed Wallace is 35 and has more than 1,000 NBA games in his rear-view mirror. And let's face it, Sheed isn't going to be signed as a pitchman for a longevity clinic any time soon.
I'm not suggesting that KG's bruise and Pierce's infected knee are cause for grave concern. I'm just noting that, you know, these guys are old.